By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – Eric Reynolds isn’t cocky or arrogant when he speaks highly of his girls soccer team.
He only speaks the truth.
“There will be several college soccer players coming out of Saltillo, I believe,” said the first-year Saltillo High coach. “I have ninth- and tenth-graders better than most people’s seniors.
“Ask anyone who watches us play.”
The Saltillo Lady Tigers (10-3, 3-1) won the Division 2-5A title on Tuesday night thanks to a 11-0 shutout of West Point and are poised to make a run in the state tournament.
However, the Pearl Lady Pirates are looming as a possible second-round opponent for the young but very talented Lady Tigers. Pearl eliminated another solid Northeast Mississippi team, Pontotoc, in last year’s quarterfinals.
“They (Pearl) have a lot of speed, and I know for a fact that they are going to be bigger than us – from what I heard because I haven’t seen them play,” said Reynolds, whose team will likely host either Forest Hill or Provine in Tuesday’s first-round match.
“Talent-wise, our girls can hang with most anybody in the state. If you run into someone with the same talent but are bigger and faster, then you’re probably going to run into problems.
“But the one thing that I can say about my girls is that they’re ready to face a challenge. Two of our goals this season are to win the division and to win the state championship.
“We accomplished one of those goals last night (Tuesday).”
Fortunately for Reynolds, who replaced Gary Cherry in the offseason, he has been able to rest easy knowing that the team chemistry has been great thanks to the leadership of senior players Ashley Dodson, Kayla Kitchen and Lindsay Richardson.
“We’re in a fortunate situation to have a (solid) starting 11 and to be able to replace someone from our bench and not lose anything,” the new Saltillo coach said. “We’re in a better situation as far as bench players.
“Everybody knows their role. This year has been enjoyable to get some players some playing time. Most of our bench players are freshmen, and hopefully, that speaks volumes of what this program can accomplish.”
First time for everyone
– When talking with Reynolds about his Saltillo High boys team, one would come away with the impression that the Tigers are an above average team.
But when considering their overall record, one would certainly think the opposite.
“That’s an amazing record to be in the playoffs, huh?” Reynolds said of his team’s 2-11 mark.
However, in all seriousness, the Tigers have developed into a solid team, and their 2-2 Division 2-5A record speaks to that.
“We started the year off really slow,” said Reynolds, whose boys team will be making its first playoff appearance in the program’s history. “Most of them have never played together before. There were several games where we didn’t score a goal.
“The past six games we’ve played well. We went from not a very good soccer team to a team that can compete with each of the teams in the division.”
So what changed?
“It’s because they finally bought into the team concept and ball movement and the fact that you can’t do it all on your own,” Reynolds said.
To prove the effectiveness of what Reynolds had been preaching and how his doctrine would pay off, a Saltillo senior cited the perfect example: Saltillo’s 5-3 win over division opponent West Point on Tuesday.
“See what happens when you work together as a team,” the senior said after the game.
Long time coming
– The 22 years since their school last defeated Tupelo in a division match had left the Starkville players in a bit of shock on Tuesday night when they finally snapped their winless streak against the Golden Wave with a 1-0 victory.
“Our guys were so pumped that they didn’t know what to do or what to say,” said Yellowjackets coach Brian Bennett, who was a freshman on that 1988 club that last beat Tupelo in division play.
Nonetheless, the Starkville players ran over to their fans as the two groups demonstrated mutual appreciation.
“We had a lot of fans last night,” Bennett said. “They were loud with cowbells and stuff, and they were making a lot of noise.
“There were a lot of hugs and high fives.”
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or firstname.lastname@example.org